What is a white balance? Why is it important? How to get started?
Basic Photography Digital Photography
July 12, 2019

Whenever we talk photography, we talk about the exposure triangle parameters, the composition, and the sharpness. Some of us even talk about the mood and feel of the image. What we don’t specifically talk about is perhaps the white balance in spite of the fact that white balance actually sets the mood of an image. So what is this white balance?


Image courtesy: Youtube


White balance is nothing but that setting in the camera by which you can convey to the camera how to perceive the white color. No matter what image editing application you have used, the white balance setting is always there. It doesn’t matter how basic or advanced that application is. This tells us the significance of white balance. White balance is used to control the temperature of the image and in the process controls the mood of the image too. We always play around with the white balance slider to set the temperature of the image. Adjusting the slider to one side introduces bluish tones in the image whereas pushing it to the other side leads to warm tones. Let us take a look at the importance of white balance and how to get started with this…


Setting the white balance:

In advance cameras, you have the option of setting the exact color temperature that you require but in the basic entry-level DSLR cameras, you will have to use the white balance presets available to you. Each preset is denoted by a specific icon. Some of the presets are Auto White Balance, Daylight (approx. 5200K), Cloudy (6000K), Shade (7000K), Tungsten (3000K), etc. Note that each preset is followed by temperature in Kelvin. The more the Kelvin value the more the white balance required. You need to judge the approximate color temperature of the environment in which you are shooting. To get the warm tones in your image, increase the white balance to around 5000K. In case you want to have the bluish tones more prominently, decrease the temperature down to 2500-3000K. This choice will depend on the mood that you want to demonstrate through the image.

Shoot in RAW mode:

It is normally said that you do not need to worry about the white balance if you are shooting in RAW mode. This is true to some extent. White balance can easily be manipulated in a raw file. The camera also does a good job when set in the auto white balance to the point where there are a lot of light fluctuations. If you are shooting in raw all the time, you will have complete control over the white balance aspect of the image during post-processing. It is however always recommended that you set the white balance manually.


Getting creative with the white balance:

Photography and creativity go hand in hand. Creative white balance may seem to go over the top but when used effectively, it can change the entire look and feel of the image. Let us take an example of a sunset shoot. A white balance of 5000-5500K seems perfect to shoot a sunset. However, you should try to shoot the same at around 8000-10000K. This will bring about a lot of warm tones. The image will look quite orangish. This looks quite beautiful especially if you can get a silhouette in your image. Thus even though you are shooting the images at the same time, you can bring about a drastic change in the mood of the image just by manipulating the white balance. Get creative with the white balance and do not be afraid to experiment. People are often confused by the white balance setting. We are not often comfortable with white balance values. The best way to learn this is by experimenting. Alter the white balance while shooting the same image and you will get to know what color temperature you need to have for a certain condition.

Custom white balance:

Custom white balance is actually a very useful feature of DSLR cameras. Auto white balance is often recommended. But in case you are shooting products, white balance becomes extremely crucial. The exact colors of the product need to be replicated in your images. Obviously, a lot can be achieved in post-processing but what if you haven’t captured the colors properly in the first place? How will you actually get back the original colors in post-processing? Even the entry-level DSLR cameras have this feature. Custom white balance is a way to tell the camera what your actual white should look like. There are white balance cards readily available in the market. Arrange for a white balance card and navigate to the custom white balance setting in which the camera will actually take a photograph of the white balance card and use it as a reference for the future images. Even if you are a beginner in photography, I will recommend you to use the custom white balance in order to learn the concept properly.


Just like the exposure triangle parameters, white balance is one of the vital basic pillars of photography. Although it can be controlled in post-processing if you are shooting in raw, it is always better to get it right in the camera itself. There will be events where you may not be able to shoot in raw format. Such events will require live images. If you do not have the idea of white balance, you will struggle throughout the event since the auto white balance of the camera may not be working perfectly all the time. Let us take the example of a dance party. The lights are of different color temperatures. The fluctuations of these temperatures can trick the auto white balance of the camera. White balance determines the mood of the image and it is a must in storytelling images. White balance deserves a lot of attention and once you actually realize the value of it, you will dive deep down to the basics of white balance and master another pillar of photography.

Cover Image courtesy: Youtube

Basic Photography Digital Photography
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